S. L. Baker
April 16, 2011
How would you like a big, juicy burger loaded with onions, mustard, ketchup — and a big helping of drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), a bacteria linked to a wide range of human diseases?
If you find that dish stomach-churning instead of appetizing, then maybe you should think twice before eating not only meat but chicken and turkey, too, at least in the U.S.
According to a nationwide study just released by the Flagstaff, Arizona-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), meat and poultry from U.S. grocery stores have an unexpectedly high rate of dangerous disease-causing bacteria, including antibiotic resistant superbugs. In fact, almost half (47 percent) of all meat and poultry samples tests were contaminated with S. aureus.
What’s more, 52 percent of these contaminated meats contained superbugs, meaning the bacteria were resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics.That adds up to multi-antibiotic resistant Staph germs being present in about one out of every 4 samples of meat, chicken or turkey.
“For the first time, we know how much of our meat and poultry is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Staph, and it is substantial,” Lance B. Price, Ph.D., senior author of the study and Director of TGen’s Center for Food Microbiology and Environmental Health, said in a statement to the media.
The research, published today in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, is the first national investigation of antibiotic resistant S. aureus in the U.S. food supply. The scientists collected and analyzed 136 samples of beef, chicken, pork and turkey sold under 80 brands in 26 retail grocery stores in Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Flagstaff and Washington, D.C.
So where does this downright nauseating contamination come from? The TGen researchers reported that DNA testing shows the food the animals themselves were fed is likely the major source of contamination.
“The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling, and demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today,” Dr. Price added.
The dirty truth many Americans — especially meat eaters — don’t want to face is that conditions on so-called industrial farms are not only often inhumane but downright sickening. Animals raised for slaughter are packed together densely and steadily fed low doses of antibiotics in their food. The new report concludes these industrial farms are the ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that can move from animals to the human population.
“The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — including Staph — remains a major challenge in clinical medicine,” Paul S. Keim, Ph.D., Director of TGen’s Pathogen Genomics Division and Director of the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University (NAU), emphasized in a media statement.
“This study shows that much of our meat and poultry is contaminated with multidrug-resistant Staph. Now we need to determine what this means in terms of risk to the consumer,” Dr. Keim, a co-author of the paper, added.
But doesn’t the U.S. government routinely survey retail meat and poultry for drug-resistant bacteria? The study points out the feds only check for four types of superbugs — but S. aureus is not among them. The paper urges a more comprehensive inspection program and points out S. aureus can cause devastating health problems.
While it’s true Staph germs can usually be killed with proper cooking, the scientists pointed out Staph still poses a substantial health risk through improper food handling and cross-contamination in the kitchen. Infections with S. aureus can cause a range of illnesses from minor skin infections to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia, endocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and sepsis (infection in the bloodstream).
And should you get one of these antibiotic-resistant strains from meat or poultry, treatment can be difficult.
“Antibiotics are the most important drugs that we have to treat Staph infections; but when Staph are resistant to three, four, five or even nine different antibiotics –like we saw in this study — that leaves physicians few options,” Dr. Price stated.